Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Family Guy and Kraus?

One thing that I have found fascinating from the beginning of this class is the concept of having a (mostly) young group (or at least a handful of groups) of people come together and engage in active discussions about the state of their city and of art. What is equally impressive to me is the motivation that many seemed to have to act on these discussions. I have been trying to figure out if we have a modern equivalent, and if we did, if it could be as localized as centering on one coffeehouse or one location. I can think of a few examples of this for music; the Minimalist movement of the late 60s involved both artists and musicians reacting to the political, artistic, and social state of the US, and it was mainly based in NYC. CBGB's, the music venue where many punk/new wave bands got their start, is an example of a very specific location thta gave birth to a new stylistic approach toward music. However, nothing comes to mind involving literature in the 20th century in the US or involving such a scope (politics, literature, art, music, psychology, etc.). This too brings some questions to my mind: would it be in a physical location, or are things like blogs the new forum for these discussions? Are we all having a similar enough experience to be able to have a productive dialogue? Either way, do we have some version of coffeehouse culture here, today?
Strangely enough (or maybe not), I found a little bit of an answer on an episode of the TV show Family Guy (or at least a similarity to Kraus's view of the coffeehouse). For those of you who do not watch the show, it is a funny show about daily life of a middle-class American family. One of its trademarks is the "cut-scene," where the scene cuts to something mildly related after a very brief segue. Anyway, in a recent episode, the scene cuts to two aspiring writers sitting in a Starbucks on their laptops. The conversation goes like this:
"Hey, getting some writing there done buddy?"
"Yep, setting up in public so everyone can watch me type up my big screenplay."
"Me too! All real writers need to be seen writing. Otherwise, what's the point, right?"
"You should totally write that down!"
"Alright, will you watch me?"
I remembered this episode while reading Kraus's critique of the Viennese coffeehouse culture ("The Demolished Literature"), because I think his critique is similar to the poking fun of the aspiring writers. In many ways, from Kraus's description of the coffeehouse literati, there evolved a coffeehouse culture similiar to exactly what many were criticizing about the Viennese aristocracy and the Ringstrasse: a lot of show. I'm reminded of our discussion of the Ringstrasse's width for the aristocrats to walk down and show off their status and clothing. Kraus's description of several of the unnamed literati involved a similar sort of show--not being able to write more than three words without checking his outfit several times, having over-the-top quirks of the "nerves," which if touched upon, the person would cause a scene. The writing seemed to matter less than being seen at the coffeehouse around the table with the right people, much like in the Family Guy episode the writing mattered less than being seen writing in a hip place.


dlang38 said...

I really enjoyed reading your post, especially since you looked into the present to see if there was something similar happening. Also, the Family Guy referance was great, and helped me understand your point quite well. I'm not so sure, after today's class session, if the writers were in the coffehouses mainly for show; however, it could definately be a possibility, along with the fact that it may have been an easy spot to get to and a good environment for discussions (round tables).

Whitney said...

I agree that convenience may have been definitely a factor, and that of course the writing mattered to the writers. But I do think Kraus thought that the show was a part of it and that it was unnecessary or even destracting from the real issues. I'm glad you liked the Family Guy reference :)